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Unethical Behavior in Business

Each day roughly 120 million people (as of 2015) walk into a workplace somewhere in the United States.

Annually, half of these workers personally witnessed some form of ethical misconduct, according to the Ethics Resource Center (ERC).

These are not occasions where employees are privy to the CFO committing fraud or other such significant scandals, but are more likely it’s the everyday brand of unethical behavior such as lying to a supervisor or submitting a false expense report.

Everyday Unethical Behavior

The large-scale corporate scandals of the last two decades, like Worldcom’s accounting fraud, Facebook’s regulatory problems resulting in a $5 billion penalty, the opioid drug manufactures debacle, and KPMG’s $50 million settlement for stealing confidential information, has caused policymakers to enact a patchwork of reforms to address various corporate transgressions.

Unfortunately, the focus on preventing gross and blatant violations of the law causes many to ignore the more banal, ordinary acts of unethicality that are far more common in corporate America.

Numerous studies have documented the prevalence of practices such as stealing office supplies, inflating business expenditures reports, and engaging in behaviors that raise conflicts of interest.

While these may sound negligible, these violations reduce trust over time and alter prevailing business and legal norms. Their aggregated effect is quite harmful.


This is a growing problem.

Behavioral ethics research suggests that an extraordinarily large proportion of the population (in some studies more than 50%) may behave unethically.  Corporate leaders are not setting examples, punishing wrongdoing, and defining expected levels of ethics in most workplaces.

The current practices of promoting ethics in the workplace are not working.

As a novel approach, I suggest we start by looking where ethics was defined in the first place—the Bible.

An Overall Biblical Approach

By relying on the strength of our hope in Christ, here are some ways that business leaders and entrepreneurs can exemplify and promote ethical behavior in the workplace:

  1. Live a life beyond reproach.

Titus 2:1-10 says.

You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.  Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.

 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. . ..

Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled.  In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. . ..

 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. . ..

These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.

These are character qualities that everyone should aspire to. If others know that you live a life of utmost character, people are less likely to approach you about doing something unethical.

  1. Don’t be afraid to take a stand.

Call out unethical behavior by following the principles of Matthew 18:15-18, which instructs us to go to the person who is sinning and correct them.

When you are asked to perform, or you uncover a particular action that crosses an ethical line, don’t be afraid to call it out. Confidently, but respectfully, confront the individual(s) and state the reasons that it is unethical.

  1. If necessary, bring it forward to your superiors.

Still following the commands of Matthew 18:15-18, if this unethical behavior is of a serious enough nature or reveals a pattern of unethical conduct, you have a responsibility to raise the issue with responsible leaders within your organization.

No ethical individual wants to work in an unethical organization, and no organization who desires to operate ethically wants an unscrupulous reputation. Have specific details and examples.

  1. Persevere.

Individuals who stand for Godly moral principles in the workplace always stand on firm ground when the storms come. Don’t be tempted to cave into spiritual pressure. It may resolve itself quickly, or it may be a long road with many bumps and twists, and potentially even financial setbacks. But persevere and trust in God.

  1. Be prepared to suffer for your stance.

Sometimes, it is a supervisor or manager that makes an unethical or potentially illegal request. Don’t sacrifice God’s moral principles at the altar of job security. God always honors your commitment to Him. It may not be in the way we desire or envision it, but know that He is pleased when you stand for and trust in His righteousness.

  1. And just like Joseph, be prepared to flee from ungodly behavior.

Just as Joseph was prepared spiritually to honor God with his conduct (Genesis 39:8-9), we are called to be prepared in much the same way.

There may be organizations where unethical and even illegal behavior is rampant, and there is nowhere to turn. These are the organizations to flee from.

Leaving an organization for this reason is a last resort. Before you make this life-altering decision, be certain that the organization is intentionally ignoring and dishonoring God in their conduct and behavior and not simply offending you personally. Spend significant time in prayer and seek Godly counsel with people you trust before making this decision. Failure to do so would lead to a prideful reaction.